As countries strive to build back better post COVID-19, sustainable urbanization can make cities change agents on solving the persistent problems of climate crisis, unsustainable resource use, widespread inequality, discrimination and injustice in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines on Voluntary Local Reviews, launched today by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanisation (PPSU), highlights the critical role local leaders and city governments play in action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that cities have a transformative potential that can be harnessed and enhanced to forge inclusive, prosperous, and resilient places. As home to most of the world’s urban population, Asia-Pacific cities can serve as the drivers of sustainable development for the achievement of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement,” said ESCAP’s Environment and Development Division Director Mr. Stefanos Fotiou.
Cities are at ground zero of the COVID-19 pandemic with 90 per cent of cases reported globally. This has made many local leaders and Governments realize that the social, economic and environmental challenges it poses are not just abstract issues of national concern; they are very real and often played out locally in urban areas.
“The challenges faced calls for a revisit of city’s priorities as we adopt the relevant global goals to review our planning, our policies and strategies, with a stronger focus on resilience,” shared PPSU Chair and Chief Executive of Urbanice Malaysia, Ms. Norliza Hashim. She added, “building upon the call for a decade of action, Voluntary Local Reviews can build on local action and people action to accelerate the transformation of cities by creating better city and better life for communities.”
The formulation of VLRs can be a game changer not just in assessing progress but also in encouraging SDG localization. They provide the opportunity for cities to rethink their planning process as well as better engage local communities in understanding their needs and getting them involved meaningfully in recovery strategies and long-term development efforts.
The Guidelines aim to support Asia-Pacific cities willing to undertake a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) and produce an initial holistic report to stakeholders that connects local strategies with global agendas. Although gaining in momentum, the VLR process does not yet have any official status as part of the formal follow-up and review processes hosted by the United Nations. The Guidelines are the first of its kind to provide cities with guidance specific to the region to help them decide where to start, how to start and what to keep in mind when conducting a VLR.
This is the first regional knowledge product of the Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanization, which was formally established last year at the Asia-Pacific Urban Forum. City partners involved in the development of the Guidelines include Surabaya, Indonesia; Subang Jaya and Shah Alam, Malaysia; Naga, Philippines; Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand; Singra, Bangladesh; Dhulikhel, Nepal; and Betio, Kiribati.